Whether you agree with them or not, Congressional Republicans boast a clear, concise message to the American public. It goes something like this: “The government is too big, spends too much, and over-regulates the market. It needs to be shrunk, spend less, and stop being a burden on businesses.”
We can debate all day long (and probably the next day, too) whether or not that’s true, but it makes for good — perhaps even great — politics. It’s a simple and understandable message that even the most ill-informed voter can understand. Everyone might not agree with their beliefs, but everyone knows what Republicans stand for.
But Democrats? What do they stand for? What’s their message? What are they telling the American people?
Not much. They’re not putting out a simple, concise message the way Republicans are. All they’re doing right now is saying “The Republicans are responsible for our shitty economy, and we’re not the Republicans, so you should vote for us!” Though that may be true, it’s not a message that will get you elected. It’s playing the blame game rather than showing confidence and putting out your own message.
But Democrats by their nature are at a disadvantage. What they believe in isn’t something that can be easily captured in a single, positive sentence the way Republicans’ beliefs can. To compensate, Democrats should tell a story. Something that goes like this:
“Some economists call the 30 years from 1947-1977 the ‘Great Prosperity’. We invested in our infrastructure. We expanded our higher education system so that low-income families could send their kids to college. Working conditions got better. Productivity increased. But most importantly, the income of the average worker more than doubled — and everyone’s standard of living increased.
“Fast forward to 1980. Imagine you’re in an auditorium filled with 100 people. Everyone there makes a different amount of money. One person is a top 1 percenter; another person is a top 2 percenter; a third person is a top 3 percenter; etc. Joe, the top 1 percenter in the crowd, owns many times more money than the average, middle-of-the-road guy in the auditorium. He worked hard, started his own business, and innovated in ways most people couldn’t imagine. He was — and should be — rewarded.
“But the problem is what’s happened since 1980. If only 5 dollars of new income had been created over the last 30 years, 4 of them would have gone to Joe while everyone else got a penny. 80% of all new income created over the last 30 years has gone to the top 1% of earners. The rich have gotten richer while the middle class has faced stagnation.
“Over the last 30 years our tax policy has slowly shifted to favor the rich. The top marginal Income Tax rate has dropped from 70% to 35%. The long-term Capital Gains tax rate has dropped from 28% to 15%. The result? Warren Buffet now pays a lower tax rate than teachers, firefighters, and cops.
“Embracing Republican ‘supply-side’ economic theory has also led to the upward transfer of wealth. Social inequality is now at the highest levels it’s been at since the Great Depression. The top 1% of earners — 3 million people — make more money every year than the bottom 150 million combined, and the 400 richest Americans now own more of it than the bottom 150 million.
“A strong middle class is the basis of a vibrant economy. Adopting Republican economic ideas has caused the middle class to decline. The median household income has gone down 7% — $3,807 — since 1999. 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty — the largest amount on record. Republican economic policies caused the middle class to stagnate for the last 30 years. It was Republican economic policies that got us into this mess. Only Democratic policy can get us out of it.”
It’s not short and it wouldn’t fit in a 30 second campaign ad, but it’s a simple, relatable message. Most voters may not know all of the details of what’s happened to the middle class over the last 30 years, but they know something has happened. Explaining what’s happened in an understandable way would show intelligence and character. It would show that — for once — someone actually cares about the middle class.
And it would be good politics.